April 19, 2024 (5784)

Week of 14-20 April 2024

Torah portion: Leviticus 14 :1-15 :33   Haftarah: Mal. 3 :4-24

Theme: The priestly task to make room for the isolated


In the Torah portion we learn about the purification rituals for people and homes afflicted with leprosy and the treatment of those recovering from illness and  their  return  to community life.

     Metzora, the rabbinic title of the parasha, refers to a “leper” with a “leprous affliction” (tzara- at) (Lev. 14:2, Lev. 13:45).  The metzora or the afflicted one must “dwell apart . . . outside the camp” (v.46) until permitted to undergo the ritual of cleansing. 

     The isolation reminds us of the quarantine of those who were afflicted with COVID-19 and of post pandemic needed clearances and vaccination certificates issued by medical and government authorities before one was allowed to enter public places like restaurants or to travel outside one’s country.

     In the reading, we learn that the clearance to integrate back into a community is to be given not by medical or government authorities but exclusively by the priest or kohen. Based on the instructions given by the Lord through Moses, upon receiving a report that a leper has been healed, the priest has to go outside the camp to see the leper. He has the sole authority to begin the ritual of purification which includes the giving of offerings and in the end, to give the go signal for the recovered leper to be  integrated back into the community.  

     In biblical Israel, the priest has the special role of being both the religious and medical authority.  Etz Hayim (2001) says that the biblical mind saw the connection between the physical and spiritual dimensions of illness and recovery (more so clearly than we see it today). The outlook then was that illness was a result of moral as well as physical causes. Hence, tsara-at is seen not only as a bodily disease but also as a manifestation of sins.  

     Etz Hayim further says that today,  we recognize that it is medically inaccurate and psychologically cruel to tell someone that he or she is afflicted with illness as a punishment for behavior not organically related to the illness or that failure to heal is to be blamed on lack of will.  Seeing connection between sin and disease may have changed but not the belief that God is the source of all life and of healing. It should be noted, too, that the Torah itself presents tsara-at as an affliction to be cured, not as a punishment to be explained.

     Commentaries by rabbis speak of surrogate “metzora’im,” outcasts in the manner described by the Torah portion.  They say the modern social pariahs or untouchables include the poor, the uneducated, the mentally ill and the excluded because of stereotyping and antisemitism.

    Today’s Christians are to participate not only in  the prophetic and kingly missions of Jesus Christ but also in his priestly mission. This means we are to make our activities become spiritual sacrifices especially for those in need.  And we are to echo the rabbis’ call to extend our hands to today’s untouchables and isolated, avoid intolerance and be God’s instruments for mercy and healing.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1.Do you agree that Christians should participate in Christ’s priestly mission? 2.  If yes, what are the ways to do it within your family and community?

Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); https://www.myjewishlearning.com/torah-portions/parashat-metzora/

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014 and July 2023


Comments are closed